A Mission of the Heart
Chuck and Sue Saur give new meaning to parental involvement in education. With an unwavering commitment to their son, Dan, who has cerebral palsy, the Grand Rapids couple made conductive education a reality for Michigan children with motor impairments by working to establish what is now known as the Conductive Learning Center (CLC).
Conductive education is a Hungarian-based educational program for children with motor disorders like cerebral palsy and spina bifida. In 1995, an announcement about a conductive education camp in Ontario, Canada, dramatically altered the direction of the Saurs’ lives. They returned from the camp with a renewed vision of increased physical independence for Dan, who uses a wheelchair.
The Saurs’ vision fueled a grassroots effort in the late 90’s to bring conductive education to West Michigan and earned the support of Aquinas College, a private, liberal arts college in Grand Rapids. Aquinas is the only institution in the United States that offers a POHI methodology teacher training program utilizing the conductive education method. The Conductive Learning Center was established as the labschool for these prospective teachers to do their practical training.
Chuck Saur attributed a recent accomplishment by his son to conductive education. Saur admits he was caught off guard when Dan spoke his first clear words asking, “Where’s mom?” “I stopped what I was doing to have a conversation with Dan,” he says. “It was the beginning of a whole new father-son relationship that changed the way I looked at him.”
In 1995, the Saurs took a second mortgage to finance an intensive six-month program for Dan in Budapest. Sue Saur traveled with both of her sons to Hungary, where she couldn’t speak the language. She recalls carrying her lanky, fifty-five pound son up and down the stairs when the elevator didn’t work.
With Dan immersed in conductive education in Budapest, Chuck Saur knocked on doors in West Michigan garnering support for a pilot program. The dean of education at Aquinas College, was willing to listen. In 1997, the Saurs joined forces with other parents of motor-impaired children to create the first summer program in conductive education in Michigan.
The Saurs worked even harder once they won the support of powerful friends. Keith Konarska, former director of special education for Kent Intermediate School District (KISD), and Kathy Barker, former director of special education for Grand Rapids Public Schools and the new director of the Aquinas -Peto School (CLC) for Conductive Education, became involved. The additional support of the past president of Aquinas, Dr. Harry Knopke, President of Aquinas College, further solidified Aquinas’s commitment to creating an international center for conductive education. Today, under the joint direction of Aquinas College and the Peto Institute in Budapest, the Saurs’ dream has a respected educational backing and a solid research component. The Conductive Learning Center (CLC) has served hundreds of children with motor impairments since it’s inception back in 1997.
He remembers the exact moment Dan first cast his own fishing rod into the lake, a task Chuck Saur had always performed for his son. Today Dan can write his own name and take steps with support. He can sit up in bed and rub the sleep from his eyes with his once rigid hands. He verbally joins in his bedtime prayer. “It’s hard to explain the magnitude of what conductive education has meant to our family,” Chuck Saur explained. “We’ve gone from thinking about what we can do for Dan to celebrating what he can do for himself, and that difference is huge.”
This article first ran in the November 1999 issue of C.E.N. Newsline and was written by Judy Winter, author of Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs.
Find out more at www.JudyWinter.com